If the qualities that make a good spy were obvious, they
wouldn't make a very good spy.
Spy. It says it all, doesn't it? Covert surveillance. Peering
around corners. Maybe even high speed chases and shoot-outs in
Everyone knows that this is what spies do. It's obvious, isn't
it? Well, the first thing to know about MI6 is that nothing's
obvious. The skills that make for a good Intelligence Officer
certainly aren't. Let's face it, if they were counter-espionage
would be the easiest game in the world.
So while it's true that the work is often challenging and even
exciting, the qualities we look for are more ordinary than you
would imagine. And more subtle. The simple ability to get on with
all sorts of people from all kinds of cultures, for example. To
talk and to listen. To develop the sort of relationship that means
you can convince them to do what's needed to protect our national
interests. This is a vital skill, along with the drive and
imagination to link up pieces of data to reveal opportunities
others may have missed.
What other pre-conceptions can we shatter? Well spies are
loners, aren't they? Expected to fend for themselves, even in
dangerous situations. In reality, while spies need to be resilient
and resourceful, this is a team game and every member is constantly
Oh, and let's not forget the old 'Tinker, Tailor…' image of the
hyper-intelligent, slightly dysfunctional oddball. In fact you'll
find that we value both emotional intelligence and academic
achievement. Now what about the image of the globe-trotting secret
agent, rushing abroad at a moment's notice? Certainly we're an
organisation with an overseas focus, so that does happen sometimes.
But while we actively seek people with an interest in global
affairs, many operational jobs are in our London HQ and fit well
with family life.
What about secrecy? Well obviously the details of your work will
be secret and we ask you not to discuss your application with
anybody. That said, once you join us you'll be able to disclose
your role to one or two close friends or family. We'll help you
create a credible cover story for everyone else. Paradoxically, the
need for secrecy creates a uniquely open and supportive working
culture within the organisation.
As for the white, male stereotype, the truth is that we don't
care what sex you are or where you're from, as long as you're a
British national. We don't even care what you do now, only what you
Finally, what about the belief that those who work for MI6 are
extraordinary people doing extraordinary things for their country?
Well, perhaps that's one you can investigate yourself.
Candidates are required to have, or expect to achieve, a minimum
of a 2:1 degree.
For outstanding candidates we are introducing a Fast
Track programme. Find out more at sis.gov.uk/fasttrack